Female environmental activist still missing after arrest at Karoon River demo

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Ahwazi human rights groups have reported the brutal arrest of two women, a photojournalist and an environmental activist by Iranian security forces in the city of Muhammarah in Ahwaz region.  While the photojournalist was released later the same day, the whereabouts and fate of the environmental activist remain unknown since her arrest a week ago.

The two women, identified as 22-year-old photojournalist Rahil Moussawi and 28-year-old environmental activist Roqaya Jafari, were arrested after participating in a public demonstration in the Muhammarah city on December 9 against the regime’s diversion of the Karoon River.  Moussawi, who sustained injuries to her right arm when she was seized by the regime thugs, who confiscated her camera, was taken to the intelligence division headquarters in the city and released later that day after being forced to sign a document promising not to attend or photograph such protests in the future.

The arrests are a copy-paste of the regime’s tactics following other demonstrations, with protesters and activists routinely imprisoned, tortured and often executed on false charges in an effort to crush any dissent.  The regime’s security forces were apparently enraged by the protests against the river diversion, launching brutal attacks on protesters, many of them women and children, in response to the placards and banners condemning the project which environmentalists fear will cause further devastating desertification in the region. The regime thugs confiscated a number of items from demonstrators, including Mousawi’s camera, beating and abusing the two women before shoving them into a vehicle and taking them to an unknown location.  While Rahil was released later the same day, Jafari’s family, who have been unable to obtain any information about her whereabouts,  are extremely worried that she may be subjected to physical and psychological abuse.

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The demonstration was one of a number of recent protests against the regime’s damming and diversion of the Karoon River. This is only the latest in a series of similar projects on rivers across the once-verdant region rerouting the waters to central, ethnically Persian provinces of Iran and leaving swathes of Ahwaz with little or no water; what remains is often heavily polluted by the oil and gas refineries across the region, as well as by untreated sewage and industrial waste being poured straight into the rivers. A recently leaked regime document confirming plans for more diversion of already scarce river water from Ahwaz prompted outrage amongst the already oppressed peoples, prompting calls for demonstrations, including the one on December 9.

Rather than allowing citizens to protest peacefully, the regime appears to be increasing its efforts to crush any dissent by use of brute force and intimidation, with women and children no safer than men from its savagery.  As well as disregarding international law on the right of citizens to peaceful protest without persecution, the regime, including the purportedly “moderate reformist” Rouhani administration, also ‘forgets’ its own supposed protection of citizens’ right to protest, which is a basic right enshrined in its constitution.

Rather than making any effort to avert the environmental disaster resulting from the large scale pollution, desertification and other serious problems in Ahwaz, the regime is apparently determined to

worsen them by stealing more water from the region, further accelerating the desertification; if this process continues in the current fashion, it will end in the displacement of the entire Ahwazi population.

Iran first occupied the Arab Ahwaz region in 1925 assisted by Britain which provided support in exchange for oil contracts.  Over 95 percent of the oil and gas resources claimed by Iran are located in the Ahwaz region, whose population is subjected to apartheid-style rule, denied any of the wealth from their own resources and banned from publicly using their native Arabic language or wearing their traditional Arab garb.

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